Friday, June 17th, 2011
Half Light II
2011 Polaris Music Prize long list is long
Anton CorbijnIt only took about six minutes via Twitter to announce the forty albums long-listed for the sixth edition of the Polaris Music Prize, we’ll have the next three weeks to argue over their relative merits and come July 6, when the ten record-strong short list is announced, another couple months to hash those out before the September 19 gala in Toronto when a yet-to-be-determined grand jury declares their pick for the best Canadian album of the past year. And there’s more at stake this year than in the past, literally-speaking – the grand prize purse has been increased from $20000 to $30000 and for the first time, the other short listed artists will go home with more than a poster and an understanding of how Shad feels; they’ll all take home $2000 prizes.
I’ve no doubt that much of the aforementioned debate will center around a certain record from a certain Montreal outfit that’s cleaned up at major awards worldwide. It almost seems like a foregone conclusion that they’ll do the same here, but if there’s one thing that past Polaris winners have shown, it’s that the jury likes the underdog and the more successful you are, the less likely you are to add this particular statuette to your mantle. If there was a statuette, that is. Having served my grand juror duty back in 2008, I’m happy that I won’t have to be part of the decision-making process on this one, but I would love to be a fly on the wall of the creepy jury room in the Masonic Temple that Monday evening in September, you bet your sweet bippy.
As for my part in this process, it’s just about done – four of my five picks made the long list, which means that I have to revisit my ballot and pick a longlisted record to replace the one that failed to garner quite enough journo love country-wide. And without going back over past ballot posts to see if this is redundant or not, I’ll quickly outline my personal criteria for my picks. Beyond the obvious, “do I like it a lot?”, I ask myself if the record is or feels “important”, whether for music, Canadian music or just the artist’s own narrative. If that sounds nebulous, that’s because it is. I know some people agonize over these sorts of lists, but honestly I find them pretty simple – I don’t pick the records I think are worthy, they tell me if they are. And so, without further ado, here was my Polaris long list ballot for 2011 with some explanations.
1. Arcade Fire / The Suburbs
Even though this wasn’t even amongst my favourite albums of 2010, taking into the Polaris mandate of rewarding the album with the greatest artistic merit I accepted that this had to be at the top of my list. It’s an album with thematic and musical ambitions that you simply don’t see much of or often enough. And while its reach does exceed its grasp at a few points, said grasp is still higher than most would even consider aspiring to, and the end result strikes a universal chord you can’t deny.
Video: Arcade Fire – “We Used To Wait”
2. Destroyer / Kaputt
Destroyer has always made excellent records, so that the most un-Destroyer record yet would also be maybe the best one is something not many saw coming. But by going lounge and trading (some) guitars for smooth synths and saxes, Dan Bejar has created an immersive sonic world that’s sleek, sad and sexy.
MP3: Destroyer – “Chinatown”
3. Miracle Fortress / Was I The Wave?
By the time I heard this record in early March, the Polaris-judging part of my brain was just about full and most of my ballot complete – or so I thought. Graham Van Pelt’s retro-futuristic sophomore effort refused release my attention though, holding it like some irresistibly shiny object dancing hypnotically in front of my eyes/ears. Which it essentially is.
MP3: Miracle Fortress – “Raw Spectacle”
4. Olenka & The Autumn Lovers / And Now We Sing
About as small and local a release as you’re likely to find discussed in Polaris circles, I didn’t really expect this one to make the long list, but certainly not because it’s not as good or better than the albums that did. Time has proven that my last-minute, gut-instinct inclusion of Sing on my 2010 year-end list was justified; it’s a special record, more people simply need to hear it.
MP3: Olenka & The Autumn Lovers – “Odessa”
5. Sloan / The Double Cross
If the Polaris was awarded to the the best first three songs on a record, then everyone else could just go home – Sloan would take it in a cake walk. The pop veterans celebrated their twentieth anniversary by making their strongest record in a decade and reminding anyone who’s taken them for granted – which is to say everyone – just how good they could be.
MP3: Sloan – “The Answer Was You”
I have a little while to rejig my ballot to replace the Olenka record with something else off the long list. I have a few options I’m weighing. Maybe I’ll fill you in when a decision is made. Maybe.
Spin has got a 30-minute Arcade Fire video feature from MuchMusic’s The Wedge, wherein the band are interviewed by Damian Abraham, frontman for 2009 Polaris champs Fucked Up. Fucked Up are also featured in Blare, Spin, NOW and Spinner. Their two NXNE appearances now done, their next local show will be on August 9 at the Air Canada Centre opening up for Foo Fighters.
While on the topic of former Polaris recipients, since they’ll be in town to hand over the title of “reigning Polaris Music Prize winner” on the 19th of September, Karkwa have scheduled a Canadian tour that includes show at Lee’s Palace for September 17, tickets $12.
Though they’ve got two NXNE showcases this week – tonight at The Garrison, tomorrow at The Great Hall, long-listers Braids have scheduled another as part of a Fall tour – they’ll be at The Horseshoe on October 14. Spinner has an interview.
MP3: Braids – “Lemonade”
All three acts playing the free show at Yonge-Dundas Square tonight made the 2011 long list; The National Post talks to Stars, Spinner and The National Post chat with Land Of Talk’s Liz Powell and The Grid profiles John O’Reagan of Diamond Rings. The Diamond Rings remix rainbow project has also just released a reimagining of a NOW Handsome Furs tune. Stars have a new video.
All three acts who played The Music Gallery last night also got some NXNE media attention; NOW profiled Snowblink, Blare got Evening Hymns’ Jonas Bonetta to give Tom Petty’s Wildflowers some love and The National Post and Post-City talked to Forest City Lovers’ Kat Burns.
Friday nights at Yonge-Dundas Square have been declared as “Indie Friday” and will host a weekly series of free shows to earn the title; particularly notable are shows from The Sadies on July 22 and the double-bill of Zeus and Jason Collett on September 9. All shows are free free free.
And just in time for Summer/Polaris/NXNE/whatever June 17 means to you, The Line Of Best Fit have released their seventeenth (!!!) Oh! Canada downloadable mix.